Chicago Hip-Hop is almost as varied as the people who make it. As a suburban tagalong who showed up at plenty of open mics and small venue concerts in high school, I witnessed firsthand one of the most beautiful local music scenes in the country. It’s more than Lupe, Twista, Common, and Kanyeâ€”Chi-City’s underground holds some of rap’s best kept secrets.
Enter Typical Cats, a group of young, hungry signees on fledgling indie label Galapagos4’s roster. Comprised of MCs Qwel, Qwazaar, and Denizen Kane (better known on the spoken word circuit by his government name, Dennis Kim), as well as producer/spin doctor DJ Natural, the group came together rhyming on Chi-City’s WHPK Wednesday Night Rap Show. Their styles as individuals are almost incomparableâ€”Qwel has the unlikely combination of swagger and insane multisyllabic rhyme patterns; Denizen’s flow is more waterfall-like in nature, dripping over the rhythm and often going offbeat while still managing to come off; and Qwazaar’s rugged vocal tone throws dagger after dagger, and by the end of his verses, you’re surprised that your ears aren’t bleeding.
Though the group members styles are strikingly different from each other, on record they have some of the best group chemistry you’ll ever hear. Peep the intro, where all three rhymeslingers trade bars over DJ Natural’s pounding drums, Denizen’s bluesy guitar and Emily Chang’s sultry vocals:
Qwel: “Fuck choosing the word used, everyone you’ve ever heard
In that case, we’re better than you; confused? Then call it music work
Whose complexities drop next to these concept emcees
Fuck your bomb threats with rhyme schemes”
Denizen Kane: “Please put your dogma on a leash, kid, these cats come to collect
Confuse the callous, crush, crawl into your ear canal, connect
Wrestling egos in the night, and then defy death in definition
A rhyming savage, never ravage musical missions, not a competition, listen”
Qwazaar: “This here’s for the cats searchin’ hard for the content
Who won’t settle for the nonsense; whose intellect just will not accept the dumb shit
The last true heads willin’ to spend they final dollars
On they favorite artists, no matter what the cost is
Let’s start this”
It’s Chi at its bestâ€”from the vocab-twisting verbal gymnastics to the annihilating alliteration, it’s all here. And of course, it’s all backed by DJ Natural’s fantastic productionâ€”from the happy, Sesame Street-like piano loop on “Any Day” to the crazy, organ-and-breakbeat soundclash “Take A Number,” he stays on point throughout the record, and shows he’s no slouch on the wheels of steel, either, as he wrecks shop on the turntable interlude “Natural Causes.”
Of course, what would a group effort be without the excellent solo tracks? Qwel bombs the system with his graffiti ode, “The Manhatten Project,” and serves weak emcees on “Qweloquiallisms.” But he’s at his punchline-dropping best on “ClichÃ©,” where he serves up some hardhitting bars that every up-and-coming battle rapper WISHES he could come up with:
“Doper emcees none existent like RuPaul’s clit is
Cant tell if your dick or pussy like topless infants
Couldn’t spit sick ‘ish kid lickin’ your cold sores
And leave you scared to drop shit like school stalls with no doors
Wonder how this fucker whispers thunder sounds
You’re fly like crippled ostriches I scare heads underground
And break it down like midget B-boys screamin’ mathematics
What’s he mean? I think he means you’re whack beat
In fact I’m harder to catch than hailin’ taxis with black peeps
Get in your ass so fast shit scabs when the cops come
Guilty as charged blowin’ minds like Shenoah shotguns
Hold nuts like padded rooms whack raps cant plead insanity
Just cause I stand over you don’t mean you understand me
Man please I’m way to fucking dope to be this humble
And knock you out the frame like Christmas pictures with your drunk uncle”
It’s a three-minute, nineteen-second verbal assault that’ll leave you wishing that you’d never even heard Qwel’s name, let alone his music. It’s also one of the dopest beats on the record while being one of the simplestâ€”Natural lays a lazy guitar lick over a slamming, slowed-down break loop that’s as hypnotic as it is minimalist.
Denizen is no slouch on the solo tip, either; “What You Thought Hops” is a metaphor-laced spoken word diatribe that transitions effortlessly into a hot rap verse, as the North Side Chicago-bred emcee reps his crew hard whether on or offbeat. And “Snake Oil” is a jazzy joint complete with some of the most vivid imagery you’ll hear in Hip-Hop.
But the crew is nothing if they’re not together; and on the album’s closer, “Thin Red Line,” the trio weaves three different narratives with one mission: getting down to WHPK on time for the weekly Rap Show, as each tries to find a way to get to the station before the segment starts. It’s one of the most innovative concepts to be hashed out on record, and captures Chicago’s public transportation system as no other rapper has before.
Even after a second collaborative effort and countless solo efforts later, this album remains not only an independent classic, but a snapshot of Chicago in ’01 as seen through the eyes of three rising stars on the city’s scene. It’s a beautiful time capsule, and has held up over seven years as one of the best albums to ever be released by a Windy City group. It’s a testament to the hard work that all of them have put in, and will stay in your rotation for a good, long time. If anyone mentions Chicago Hip-Hop, make sure that they have this CD in their collection before they even finish their conversation.